In the morning and early part of the afternoon of April 7, 1805, Lewis was busy overseeing the last minute wrapping of packages and their placement into the canoes that would head upriver to the mountains, or into the keelboat that was going back downstream to St. Louis. At 4:00 pm, the boat, pirogues, canoes, and crews were ready to shove off. The men of the permanent expedition called out goodbye, good luck, and Godspeed to the crew of the keelboat, then pushed their six small canoes and two larger pirogues, all heavily laden, into the current. They climbed in, took up their paddles, and began pulling upstream.
During their journey, the men slept in the open. Joining Lewis in his buffalo skin tepee were Clark, Drouillard, Charbonneau, Sacagawea and her baby. Putting Sacagawea in the tent, surrounded by the two captains, the hunter and interpreter, her husband, and her son, removed temptation for the men. This sleeping arrangement persisted until Sacagawea and Charbonneau returned to the Mandan villages in 1806. It worked: there is not the slightest hint in the journals that having a young woman among those healthy, hearty soldiers ever caused a problem.
The next morning, Lewis again walked on shore. He came to the Mandan village after two miles, and there paid a farewell visit to Black Cat, a Mandan chief, and they smoked a pipe together. At noon, he descended to the river, where he had to wait for the party to come up, since one of the canoes filled with water. The men unloaded the craft and spread the contents in the sun to dry. The task completed, they made a few more miles in the late afternoon. In the evening, a Mandan man came up, bringing with him “a woman who was extreemly solicitous to accompany one of the men of our party, this however we positively refused to permit.”
Lewis refused for an obvious reason: not because a woman would be an extra mouth to feed but, rather, because an unattached woman would be a source of jealousy and disruption. Sacagawea was already showing that she could make a contribution; Lewis noted on April 9 that “when we halted for dinner the squar busied herself in serching for the wild artichokes which mice collect and deposit in large hoards. This operation she preformed by penetrating the earth with a sharp stick…her labour proved successful, and she procured a good quantity of these roots.” They were Jerusalem Artichokes.
The party was making excellent time and on May 8, they “nooned it” just above another river coming in from the north. The Hidatsas had told Lewis and Clark of this river, which they called “The River Which Scolds at All Others.” Lewis named it Milk River, from the color of it’s water. It retains that name today.
That afternoon, Drouillard, Charbonneau, and Sacagawea went walking. She found some wild licorice and dug up a quantity of roots called the white apple. Lewis gave the roots a full 500 word description, concluding that though it was “a tastless insipped food of itself…our epicures would admire this root very much, it would serve them in their ragouts and gravies in stead of the truffles morella.” He never mentioned Sacagawea�s contribution (Clark did), but he did write that it was a very healthy food. It was a very welcome addition to their diet as there are some indications that the men of the expedition at various times did suffer from scurvy because of their mostly all-meat diet.
On May 14, a near disaster was averted. Charbonneau was at the helm of the white pirogue when a sudden squawl struck and turned her. Charbonneau, in a panic, instead of putting her bow into the wind, turned her with it. The wind drew the brace of the sail out of the hands of the men attending it “and instantly upset the pirogue and would have turned her completely topsaturva, had it not have been from the resistance made by the oarning against the water.”
Watching from the shore, the captains were in a state of near-panic themselves. Before Charbonneau and the crew could recover their wits sufficiently to bring in the sail, the pirogue was filled to within an inch of the gunnels. Fortunately, Cruzatte was able to force Charbonneau to do his duty by threatening to shoot him instantly if he did not. Charbonneau took up the tiller and the boat righted. All this time, Sacagawea was calm, collected and invaluable. As Lewis put it the following day, “The Indian woman to whom I ascribe equal fortitude and resolution, with any person on board at the time of the accident, caught and preserved most of the light articles which were washed overboard